You’re at a loss. You have doubts about where you are in life. You’ve suffered a trauma, or a friend of yours has. You’re at the fair and have a few spare coins to spend on Madame Mystic, and she manages to tell you about specific things in your life that no stranger could know. Psychic, or cold reading?

Cold reading is the art of educated guessing. From Sherlock to Long Island Medium to the rough-looking gypsy that hangs out in her Aladdin style tent, there are plenty of people who claim to be able to tell you things about yourself that couldn’t be obvious to a stranger from just one meeting. It seems like psychic ability, unless you understand the mechanics behind it.

“I’m feeling a tightness around my chest, did your husband die of a heart attack?’ “Yes, he was grossly overweight!” “Ok, Perfect!”

People who cold read use an arsenal of techniques to beguile the punter (you) and have them believing in their ability. They will establish themselves as credible with testimonials and titles (“Psychic Healer & Teacher”) or visual props like crystal balls and tarot cards. Their language will be subtly geared towards possibilities and avoid definite or concrete statements, and will use their powers of deduction to make probable claims about the person. (Engagement ring? Impending marriage. Wow!) They will stereotype the person and use general statements – known as ‘Barnum statements’ or ‘Forer statements‘ – that apply to large groups of people, and also play off the wishes of most people, much like horoscopes.

They will then attempt to ‘fish’ for information by making statements about the person that may or may not be true (Jane is a significant name, is it not?) that can be used to solidify the psychic’s credibility if true and waved away as confusion in the spirit world if false or the fault of the client for not concentrating or believing enough.

These people are talented, but not in the way that you think. They need to be masters of observation, deduction, intuition and dialogue, and have the mental fortitude to ignore all the shouts of “fake bastard!” and the emotional upset they cause to their gullible marks.

What’s your input on this? Is psychic ability possible outside of the money hungry fairground circuit, or is it all just clever folk preying on our willingness to believe?

Neil Rochford is a writer from Ireland and has lived in various places around the world. He loves fiction where bad things happen, is trying to feed himself with his words and he is available for freelance writing gigs and wakes. His book, The Blue Ridge Project, is available NOW on Amazon. NeilTR.com

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